Throw a stiff arm in your opponent's face... literally!
Madden 07 for Wii has a novel enough control scheme that it even succeeded in turning the heads of some of the biggest haters of the series. That's exactly what happened to me when I played the game back in September. After playing through much of the final game one thing is clear: it is still an incredibly deep and complicated football game.
The primary and most exciting difference between this and every previous Madden game is the use of the gesture based controls that Wii makes possible. Many different aspects of the game are performed using motions instead of buttons. Snapping, passing, stiff arms, power tackles, and strip attempts are just some of the many examples. The vast majority of these motions really add to the immediate fun of the game, but not without some consequences. As satisfying as it is to thrust your arm out in front of you and have the player on screen throw an awesome stiff arm in the face of the defender, there will be times when nothing actually occurs on screen. This lack of precision stands in the face of what the Madden series has become over the years for competitive players.
Another new addition to the series that really falls in line with many of the other Wii launch window titles is the inclusion of some multiplayer mini-games. They allow up to four players to break away from the complexity and structure of the main game. Reminiscent of backyard football games, one mode is a game of two-on-two football where the defense has to count Mississippis before rushing the quarterback. This can be a lot of fun for both two and four players. In two player mode each player takes on the role of the quarterback when on offense and the defensive back when on defense. The D-pad on the remote can be used to order the computer controlled receiver around. When the receiver is open, throw the ball and hope your opponent doesn't pick it off. In four player mode every position is controlled by one of the players. Every four downs (regardless of first downs or touchdowns) the possession changes. This means it's possible to score up to four touchdowns in a row before the other team even gets the ball. Scores often reach the 100-point mark.
In another mini-game, four players alternate between playing the quarterback set up in a three receiver offensive set. The other three players take on the role of the defensive backs in a man-to-man coverage. The quarterback's job is to complete passes. Points are scored based on how many yards the receiver runs for after a catch. Defensive backs can gain bonus points by intercepting the ball, swatting passes, or causing incompletions with hard tackles; blown coverages result in point penalties. I had the most fun with the game in this mode. Defensive backs can decide to risk a blown coverage and go for a sack at any time. A successful blitz results in a huge point bonus, but if the quarterback recognizes it and completes a pass, it can not only cost the defensive player some blown coverage points but also leave the receiver wide open, possibly allowing a huge score for the quarterback.
All of the other Madden features are there. Franchise mode is so deep you even set the ticket prices for your stadium. Casual football fans will surely be confused by the number of features involved. It takes quite a bit of work wading through the options, practicing in training camp, and playing preseason games before you can actually start the season. Surely football fanatics will eat it up, but a less complex single season mode would have been nice for everyone else.
Technical issues will constantly remind players that it is a launch game. Data and profile management is a complete mess. It's possible that Madden uses an old memory card-based system rigged to work with the Wii, but it takes some effort to figure out what portion of the game you are saving at what time. The game is not free of lock-ups, either. There will be a few occasions where completely shutting down the system is required to get the game running again. Menu load times make the pointer based navigation frustrating as well. If hovering over a menu option involves significantly changing what is displayed on screen, the action will freeze for a second while everything is loaded. Once loaded, if the pointer is no longer on that option the halt-and-load sequence will start all over. This frustration will make many people forgo the pointer navigation for the more traditional analog stick.
The developers really came up with some interesting and entertaining gestures for a football game, but Madden may have been the wrong game for them. The overall complexity of the game will immediately turn off the more casual players who were attracted by the control scheme. The hardcore Madden players will most likely prefer one of the more traditional console versions because of precision issues with the gestures. The cool mini-games and tried-and-true Madden feature set make up for the shortcomings a bit, though.